After a day touring Negev research sites and planting trees with fellow
diplomats, the Kenyan ambassador to Israel is eager to bring seeds produced here
back to the arid lands of his eastern African home.
“We would like to
plant trees in some areas but the seeds we have are not withstanding drought,”
Kenyan Ambassador Lt.-Gen (Ret.) Augostino S.K. Njoroge told The
Jerusalem Post last week. “We want to get seeds from here that will be able to
withstand harsh climate, to increase acreage.”
In addition to Njoroge and
his wife, about 20 foreign diplomats to Israel and their spouses joined Keren
Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) on Wednesday for a tour of
several different Negev development sites. After learning extensively about
desert plant growth and park development, they also rode a safari truck through
rugged – but green and blossoming – desert terrain and planted trees themselves
in the Ambassadors Forest.
The tour began with a morning visit to the
“MOP Darom” Negev Research and Development Center, located next to Moshav Yesha
and near the town of Ofakim, a few kilometers from the Kerem Shalom border
crossing with Gaza.
The station is funded 60 percent by governmental
sources, 25% by KKL-JNF, 10% by competitive research funds and 5% by the local
growers themselves, according to Myron Sofer, director of Negev R&D Center,
who is also a plant pathologist and farmer.
While the station grows a
number of flowers, vegetables, herbs and strawberries, the main crops of the
location are tomatoes, as tomatoes from this region account for 48% of the
country’s tomato needs, explained Liana Ganot, a staff member of the station.
Ganot demonstrated to the visiting diplomats how all the tomatoes grow
successfully in desert sand and survive without much pesticide spraying, as they
are surrounded by protective nets.
Next door, blossoming lisianthus
flowers of all colors sat in vases to test shelf life, as most of these flowers
from the region end up being exported abroad, primarily to Holland, Ganot
In a third greenhouse, the diplomats munched on fresh strawberries,
which had been hanging from the ceiling in baskets of coconut soil.
techniques, which have been developed at this station since 1973, could be
beneficial to many of the countries from which the diplomats hail, Sofer told
them. While some of the visiting ambassadors and staff members were from Eastern
Europe, most came from dry climates in South America, Africa and southeast
“We are happy to help other countries to the extent to which they
want to cooperate with us,” Sofer said. “We believe that this kind of
agricultural cooperation builds strong relations between countries and
After their stop at MOP Darom, the diplomats visited the
developing Nahal Beersheba Park, where they saw a land that was once mostly
filled with solid waste becoming green with flowers and grass.
has been under restoration for 10 years, and by summer 2013 will feature a
12,000-seat amphitheater, and a couple years later, a 2.2- hectare (5.4-acre)
lake, explained Itai Freeman, the park director.
“This area for many
years was neglected and we’ve been developing it for the public,” he told the
The park, which will span 500 hectares and stretch across
eight kilometers, will require a lot of water – a need that officials will be
fulfilling through recycled water from a KKL-JNF reservoir being constructed in
the valley, Freeman said.
“What was neglected for many years will be the
center of the city,” Freeman said, calling the park an “urban generator” for the
city’s future economy.
To Hector Palacios, Guatemala’s deputy chief of
mission to Israel, the rehabilitation of such a wasteland into a blooming park
is particularly relevant.
“We have a lot of needs to start parks like
this in our cities,” said Palacios, who has been in Israel for three-and-a-half
years and will soon leave to become the Guatemalan ambassador to Costa
“In some of the areas around the cities – like Guatemala City –
it’s something like this,” he continued. “It’s lost land and you cannot do
anything with this land.”
While Guatemala receives excessive amounts of
rain in comparison to Israel, sewage treatment remains a problem and affects
potential arable lands, according to Palacios.
Having more contact with
KKL-JNF to explore ways of transforming such land into parklands could therefore
be “tremendous” for his country, he said.
While Guatemala may have ample
rains, much of the world does not, and KKL-JNF world chairman Effi Stenzler
reminded the guests that in the next couple decades, at least 30% of the globe
will become desert.
“[KKL-JNF] will be more than happy to bring to your
countries the knowledge of how to plant where we don’t have enough rain,”
Stenzler told them.
As he sent off the diplomats to plant trees in the
Ambassadors Forest themselves, Stenzler reminded them that already 240 million
such trees have been planted throughout Israel. Such tree-planting on a regional
basis beyond the bounds of Israel, he said, could lead to positive
“Green as you know has no border,” Stenzler said. “We would
like to plant trees on the border with Jordan, on the border with Lebanon and on
the border with Egypt. I think it would be more than a sign of peace if we would
plant trees with them.”
The ambassador of Belarus to Israel, Igor
Leshchenya, echoed Stenzler’s sentiments, noting that Israel is a country of
“One of the most intense impressions is that we
have to accept the fact that most of the forests on this land were planted or
restored by the Israelis,” Leshchenya said.
After planting his own tree,
Kenyan ambassador Njoroge reiterated to the Post
how he was planning on
connecting his country’s director of forestry with that of KKL-JNF, to bring
such a bloom home – for both the benefit of his country’s massive lands and his
own 200-acre farm.
“This is my personal and governmental interest,”